It was way back in 2004 when it was first decided to locate and secure a suitable release area for the lions graduating from stage one of the release program. The search led us to the Dambwa Forest, just north west of the city of Livingstone in Zambia, a stone’s throw from the Victoria Falls. The application to the Zambian Forestry Department for a lease on a 15,000 acre section of the Dambwa Forest was made and on 10th August 2006 a Forest Concession Agreement with the Ministry of Tourism, Environment & Natural Resources, the Zambia Wildlife Authority and the Forestry Department was agreed.
Given the length of this process additional plans were made in Zimbabwe which resulted in the Dollar Block release site in September 2007. Whilst that site was operating, back in Zambia an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was underway with the Environmental Council of Zambia. This was approved on 5th June 2008 but it was another year before we were given the go ahead on 11th May 2009 to commence development of the site.
Work began on preparing the first fenced area (around 800 acres) within the Forest in July 2009, the fence itself being erected from November 2009 and being completed in April of 2010. Whilst all this was going on we had, due to the circumstances in Zimbabwe at the time, to take down the Dollar Block site and re-erect it as the now operational Ngamo release area.
Kela, Kwandi and Loma were the first lions to venture into the fenced Dambwa site on 5th May 2010 with Zulu, Toka and Leya doing the same three days later.
Over the Zambian winter further development of the Dambwa site proceeded with the flooding of natural water pans to create year round water at several points and a variety of game species were introduced. Between then and now the lions, in various groups, have been taken out during the day and at night to start getting used to what will be their new home.
Much of the development of the Dambwa Forest site and the progress of the lions towards release has been documented in the two series of Lion Country, episodes of which can be viewed here. The episodes to watch are season one episode 6 and season two episodes 1 – 3.
The release site offers a variety of habitats from open grass plains to scrub to thick woodland, perfect for the lions and other species to make a home.